VMAX, Aquila… Concerning hypersonic weapons, France is simultaneously developing the Lance and the Shield

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Only a few years ago, the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the French staffs remained perplexed as to the reality of the hypersonic weapons then recently presented by Russia (Kinzhal, Tzirkon, Avangard) and China ( DF17).

However, many questions remained without a clear answer, such as the way in which these weapons would be guided, or the real effectiveness of the propulsion systems used.

From 2019, this position evolved rapidly, both through demonstrations, observed in particular by satellites, of this reality, but also through advances obtained in this area by the United States in particular, to the point that now, they are considered one of the technological pillars decisive in the balance of forces and nations for decades to come.

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The different French offensive hypersonic weapons programs: the lance

Thus, in 2019, the Ministry of the Armed Forces launched, within the framework of the new Military Programming Law, the VMAX program, a hypersonic glider demonstrator whose design was awarded to ONERA and Ariane Espace, with the aim of making a first flight in 2021, while other programs should be able to rely on the technological achievements developed.

The ASN4G program should make it possible to replace the ASMPA supersonic nuclear missile on board future Rafale F5

ASN4G and FMC/FMAN cruise missiles

This is the case of the new 4th Generation Air-Ground Nuclear Missile, or ASN4G, which must replace the ASMPA supersonic missile currently in service aboard the new Rafale F5 in the middle of the coming decade.

But it is also that of the Franco-British program Future Cruise Missile / Future Anti-Ship Missile, should evolve at hypersonic speeds, even if in the case of the FMC / FMAN, the subject remains debated between Paris, London and now Rome , regarding the use of hypersonic capabilities or stealth to increase the effectiveness of the weapon.

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Remember that a weapon is considered hypersonic when it reaches or exceeds a speed greater than Mach 5, but also that it has significant maneuvering capabilities at these speeds.

That is why the Russian Kinzhal airborne missile, presented since 2018 as a hypersonic weapon, but also the Chinese DF21D / YJ21 anti-ship missile are not hypersonic weapons, even if they do reach speeds in excess of Mach 5, due to the fact that they do not have significant maneuvering faculties sufficient to avoid ballistic interceptors.

Scramjet and hypersonic glider to exceed Mach 5

Today, there are two types of technologies that make it possible to design a potentially hypersonic missile. The first is the Scramjet, or superramjet, an aerobic propellant (using atmospheric air as an oxidizer unlike a rocket engine which simultaneously carries fuel and oxidizer), capable of slowing down and cooling air flows to stabilize combustion to create the thrust necessary for achieve these speeds.

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This is particularly the technology used by the Russian 3M22 Tzirkon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile, which, unlike the Kinzhal, seems to tick all the boxes of the definition of a hypersonic weapon.

3M22 Tzirkon hypersonic weapons
The 3M22 Tzirkon hypersonic anti-ship missile uses a scramjet to achieve and maintain speeds above Mach 5. The missile's guidance system still remains a mystery.

LOGO meta defense 70 Hypersonic weapons and missiles | Defense Analysis | Strategic weapons

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